League advocacy is based on member study and agreement on selected issues and involves concerted efforts to achieve public policies consistent with League positions. League lobbying promotes or opposes specific pieces of legislation. The LWVUS public policy positions are the official statements of position for each program area and reflect the program adopted by the most recent national Convention
Working Together to Influence Public Policy
The process used in formulating positions and in taking action at the grassroots level makes the League unique and sets the League apart from other organizations. The fact that we are members not only of a local League, but of a state League and of the League of Women Voters of the United States as well, makes us a powerful force.
Washington, DC, and constituent lobbying at home. This one-two punch gives the League a special impact in influencing national legislation.
Lobbying activities and voter services activities must be kept completely separate, and voters’ guides and other voter services materials and publications must not contain statements of League positions.
Advocacy vs. Lobbying
Advocacy is a broader concept than lobbying. While lobbying can be part of an advocacy strategy, advocacy does not necessarily include lobbying. Lobbying is defined as an attempt to influence specific legislation, both legislation that has already been introduced in a legislative body and specific legislative proposals that the League or others may either oppose or support. Lobbying includes action that transmits a point of view on a specific piece of legislation to elected officials or their staffs, as well as action urging the public to contact their legislators about a specific piece of legislation. Lobbying activities must be funded through general operating funds (501(c)4).
Advocacy activities, on the other hand, can sometimes be funded with tax-deductible monies. This is the case even when only one side of an issue is presented, as long as no call to action on a particular piece of legislation is issued. Such activities can include: (1) developing public policy briefs that analyze issues and provide detailed information and recommendations for addressing them through specific reforms and (2) providing forums for discussing issues and educating policymakers and the public.
In DC, the LWVUS president and staff testify on Capitol Hill and lobby Members of Congress through phone calls and office meetings. The LWVUS frames the substantive issues and develops political strategies, targets key Members of Congress and implements lobbying activities. Day-to-day lobbying of Members of Congress, their staffs and congressional committees is carried out by the League’s professional staff lobbyists. At the direction of the LWVUS, the League’s volunteer Lobby Corps of about 20 DC-area League members lobbies each month when Congress is in session.
While it is the job of the national board to take the lead in national action and to keep League action synchronized, national legislation is every League’s and every member’s business. Lobbying in DC is highly important, but direct lobbying of Members of Congress by their constituents often is the key to persuading them to adopt the League position. Many League members belong to the national League’s Grassroots Lobby Corps. This online network of activists gets the League message to Congress in a highly effective way. Members of the network receive e-mail action alerts from the LWVUS and then respond by sending quick, targeted, and sometimes last-minute, messages to Members of Congress on priority issues before key votes. Any League or individual League member interested in lobbying Congress on LWVUS positions is encouraged to join the Grassroots Lobby Corps by going to the League Web site.
The LWVUS Bylaws provide that Leagues may act on national legislative issues only in conformity with positions taken by the LWVUS (see Impact on Issues). This helps to ensure that the League speaks with one voice, which is essential for our effectiveness as an advocacy organization. A League board may choose not to respond to a particular call to action, but it may not take action in opposition to a position articulated by the LWVUS. Similarly, state Leagues are responsible for determining action policies and strategies on state issues and ensuring that the League’s message is consistent throughout the state.
It sometimes happens that a local or state League may want to take action at the federal level on an issue that is not currently an LWVUS priority. In this case, consultation with the LWVUS staff is required. After consulting with the LWVUS, a League may only lobby their own Members of Congress—and Senators, in the case of a state League. It is never appropriate for a League to lobby another League’s Members of Congress. (See the President’s Packet for more information about taking action at the federal level.)
Taking Action in the Community
Interpretation of a League position is the responsibility of the board that oversees that position. Local League boards are responsible for interpreting their own positions before taking action. Similarly, the LWVUS board interprets national positions, and state League boards interpret their own state positions. Uniform interpretation is essential for the League’s effectiveness.
A local League contemplating action on a community issue should consider the following:
- Does the League have a position that supports the proposed action?
- Do members understand and would they agree with the proposed action?
- Is it a priority for the League?
- Does the League have a unique role to play or would the League’s assets (time and money) be better spent on other activities?
- Does it have some chance of success or make an important statement for the League?
- Are other organizations or a coalition already working on the issue?
- What action techniques would be most effective?
- How will the League deal with controversy?
- How can members be involved in the proposed action?
- What kind of community involvement would best support the League’s efforts?
A local/state League may want to take action by using a national League position at the local/state level (i.e., not lobbying Members of Congress or the state legislature). If the local/state League board judges that its members are knowledgeable and support the action to be taken, it can act without clearance from the LWVUS board. Leagues may wish to consult with the LWVUS Board or staff for background on action previously taken at all levels of the League based on a particular position. Most state Leagues also do not require clearance for state positions to be used locally.
League members should be encouraged as individuals to contact their legislators regarding League priority issues. Members, of course, are always free to take action on any topic, as long as it is clear that they are speaking as individuals, not for the League (i.e, they should not mention that they are League members in their communications). It is important to remember that only the League president (or designee) speaks in the name of the League.
Speaking with One Voice
“Speaking with one voice” is one of the most important tenets of the League. The national League is responsible for determining strategies and action policies that ensure that the League’s message on national issues is consistent throughout the country. Similarly, state Leagues are responsible for a consistent state message, and local Leagues must cooperate to ensure that regional issues are addressed in a consistent matter by neighboring Leagues.
Only the president (or designee) is permitted to speak for the League in an official capacity. However, members are encouraged to take action on League topics as individuals. For example, when responding to an LWVUS Action Alert, a local League president would send a message on behalf of the organization (i.e. on League letterhead); members might contact the same official as individuals (i.e., not mentioning their affiliation with League).